M.Canka – Introduction: „CORSAIRS’ REPUBLIC OF ULCINJ“

Mustafa Canka’s book will soon be in English.

 

In the Mediterranean corsairing is an industry as old as its history. The Romans attacked the country of Queen Teuta under the accusation that the Illyrians were engaged in corsairing. The greatest historian of antiquity, Thucydides, wrote that corsairs spread as soon as maritime connections between countries began to develop, adding that “this activity was nothing shameful and even brought a certain glory”. Corsairing can also be found in Homer, Boccaccio, Cervantes… German poet J.W. von Goethe points out in “Faust” that “war, trade and corsairing are an inseparable trinity”.

Corsairing is a war of low intensity, a supplementary form of a great war, a permitted war, made as such either by an explicit declaration of war or by the authorization of an important person. It is a craft, a way of life; it’s more than just craftsmanship, it’s real art. Lucrative work, often considered honorable because it is done with the approval of state authorities, unlike piracy, which is violence at sea for one’s own account.

In Europe corsairing used to be a vocation like any other until the 18th century; any man could more or less engage in this occupation as long as it did not damage his reputation. Everyone, the poor and the powerful, the rich and the poor, cities, lords and states, all were caught in the mesh of the net that was laid across the whole sea. And that network expanded when the official conflict subsided.

“As strange as these remarks are to us now, corsairing has its own laws, its own rules, its own living and ancient customs”, writes Fernand Braudel. According to this brilliant French historian, after 1580corsairing in the Mediterranean grew more than ever and since then it has dominated Mediterranean history in its own way.

It reached its peak on a global scale between 1716 and 1726. During those 11 years alone 2,400 ships were attacked by corsairs and pirates around the world, or an average of 218 ships per year.

But states also defend themselves, hunt corsairs, robbers and adventurers on all seas, make them heavy blows. Sometimes they undertake joint actions after reaching agreements on combating piracy through bilateral agreements or at international conferences.

The best places for corsairs were mostly cities on the edge of some big country. During two of the three centuries of living in the Ottoman Empire, the “Corsairs’ Republic of Ulcinj” was like that, a small state within a state, a city of privileged status, with a solid military organization, whose rebellious and powerful corsairs managed to be their own masters.

“The diversification of activities at sea and the excellent general organization that made the people of Ulcinj sometimes corsairs, then pirates, sometimes transporters, merchants or smugglers, was the basis of their prosperity. We must not think of them as groups of adventurers guided only by chance and luck, homeless people and people without family, constantly on the run from justice and destined for a fatal downfall”, states Italian researcher Fausto Sartori.

Everything is mixed here: glory and banditry, remorse and guilty conscience, revenge and reprisals… That permanent war, endemic and persistent, with varying intensity, that Ulcinj corsair epic is going to end in the middle of the 18th century. The actions of the Ulcinj corsairs then subsided on the Adriatic, so in the following decades they would attack ships on the Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Aegean seas under their own or Tripolitanian flags, but would also be victims of other corsairs.

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